Equality and Diversity

Six Top Tips on challenging discrimination

Posted at December 12, 2011 | By : | Categories : Equality and Diversity | 0 Comment

Tips on challenging discrimination

Knowing what to do when you come across someone acting in a manner which you consider to be discriminatory is always going to be a difficult issue. A lot will depend on the nature of the relationship you have with the individual, are they a friend? Are they a work colleague or are you the manager of the individual? etc.

We are often asked at Equal and Diverse during our training on equality what to do if you come across unacceptable behaviour. Here is a quick list – by no means exhaustive of some of the things we have discovered:

Not to challenge isn’t an option.

One of the most difficult things to do is to do something because doing nothing is actually acquiescing in the behaviour of the discriminator. That isn’t to say it is easy but if you do not speak out who is going to? If there is a victim present to whom the discriminatory remark or behaviour is addressed it is perhaps unlikely that they will confront the challenge if they believe that you will fail to support them. In particular if you are a manger you have no option but to challenge discrimination. A barbed wire fence is no place to sit!

Challenge immediately if you can.

The temptation is not to say anything or do anything there and then but that might suggest to others that you are happy with the negative behaviour or prepared to let it slide. If at all possible, and it might not be if it were to cause further offence to a victim, challenge there and then.

Question someone’s motivation.

One of the most successful ways of challenging in appropriate behaviour or remarks I to question the motivation of the perpetrator. Ask them questions like, “Why would you say that?” “What evidence do you have for that assertion?” “What are you really trying to say?” “Why are you being so defensive?”

Take your time and step back.

If a situation is becoming over=heated and people are not listening to what is being said and therefore are not hearing then slowing the pace to de-escalate the anger is often helpful. I am not suggesting taking a break because that can just at fire to the angry exchange… but slow down the speed of your conversation… take time, pause and talk quietly. Nothing de-escalates a difficult situation better than dropping the pitch and rhythm of your voice and speaking quietly because if someone else is shouting they are forced to lower their voice to hear you!

If you aren’t sure with what is being said get clarification.

If you get someone to stop and reflect on the implications of what they are saying, to try to get them to consider their statement from the perspective of another, especially if it was a statement said about themselves, then all this can help to appropriate challenge someone’s negative or stereotypical thinking. “If a minority person heard you say that, what would their reaction be?” or “If someone said that about you, how would you react?”

Question the factual accuracy of the information being used.

Often individuals will make discriminatory statements such as “all X do or think this.” It is often helpful to challenge the basis of these suppositions and discover whether there is any factual accuracy or whether it is merely a stereotypical, knee-jerk discriminatory statement. People often back down and correct themselves if they discover their arguments are flawed.

Use reflection

Reflecting back to someone what is being said and using others can be very helpful – in particular use yourself as a personal reflector of what is being said. Statements such as, “I’m having some difficulty with what you’re saying” or “I can’t see your point” or “I accept that is how you think, but I find it unacceptable”

Be firm

Sometimes someone says something or undertakes an action which is blatantly unacceptable or discriminatory. On these occasions, if after dialogue and discussion their behaviour continues – you may have to take further action away from the incident or event.

Remember not challenging is accepting and colluding with discrimination.

What do you think of these Tips? Are they right? Are there more things that can be done? Join our dialogue and leave a comment for us here.

Dr Donald Macaskill



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